Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Sonnet Sailing Dinghy

I have been motivated to do a review on the Sonnet for a number of reasons - (1) a new CNC kit is about to be launched (CKD Boats) (2) the Sonnet Sailing Association has a whole new breath of life and energy (3) Sonnets (along with Dabchicks and Tempos), are the brainchildren of a great dinghy designer, the late Jack Koper, an ex-Capetonian, and (4) I have personally built and owned two Dabchicks and one Sonnet (S269 - which I still own). Very close to home then!

It was these boats, built in 1965-73, that got me hooked on Sailing and Boating, and for which I owe my Dad a whole bunch - we learned carpentry and sailing at the same time back in those years. Dabchicks probably account for more accomplished sailors in SA than any other class to date I reckon!

Right-click for full-size - the current Sonnet Sailing Poster

The Sonnet was designed in the early 70s - about 1971 as I recall. Jack designed the Dabchick first, the Tempo second, and the Sonnet 3rd as an in-between. Along wth the Dabby, it has become the most enduring design - and its a great credit to these designs that they live on after so many popoluar dinghies of that day have faded away. Sadly, the huge dinghy fleets of the 60s and 70s of Sharpies, Finns, Fireballs, Flying Dutchmen, Enterprises, Spearheads, Sprogs the odd Flying Fifteen etc - all gave way to Hobies, Lasers, Oppies, 09ers etc. Of the old-timers, Sonnets, Dabbies and Extras appear to survived best, and certainly in the Cape the Sonnet remains a very popular and active class. Its not an Olympic Class, but a great local class to put your hat in!

What makes the Sonnet so popular?
As a scow dinghy, it is flat, wide, stable and planes very easily. The beam makes it easy to get the ballast out wide, and the boat is easy to control and very forgiving. Ideal for strong wind, when dinghy sailing is most fun. Further, they are easy to handle (simple rig) - ideal trainers, but also very rewarding to experienced sailors in strong wind. A Sonnet in 25 knots on a broad reach is a truly unbeatable experience. I can't tell you the speed (before GPS) - but I can tell you the water jet that sprayed up through the centreboard casing flew clean over the transom, and only a small piece of boat would touch the water. Whilst many other dinghies compete well with them in lesser winds, the ultimate sense of speed belongs to the Sonnet! Well, to be fair - credit also to the Dabby (if you are small), the Tempo and Fireball (if you are a pro, and have a pro-crew as well). The Sonnet however, is the most acessible - easiest to build and own, and is also a great boat for single-handing. If you really want to learn to sail, learn to sail a monohull dinghy first. Its also the best way to learn single-handing - and the Sonnet would be the recommened boat every time, if you ask me.

Historically, most Sonnets were homebuilt - from Jack Koper's detailed plans (hand drawn) - using marine ply, meranti, and decent glue. It was inexpensive, not too difficult, but quite time consuming. No problem with this - but these days many people dont have the time or space to build there own boats from scratch - though I can vouch this is as rewarding as the sailing itself. In more recent times, Steven du Toit in Zeekoevlei has built a good few dozen Sonnets (very) professionally, and word now is that he is busy with a GRP version. However - professionally built boats are not exactly cheap! Don't ask me today - but I have seen pro-dinghies from R30-50k and some people say more . . . 

Do Sonnets have any drawbacks?
They don't point as well as pointy-boats in light winds. That said, they aren't bad, and still cover the course faster than many equivalents. Plus, pointing high in light winds hardly compares with the adrenalin of a planing broad-reach! They aren't Olympic classes, they also aren't high-tech - but they are inexpensive, ideal club boats, and very rewarding.

Competition for Sonnets?
In South Africa, Sonnets Rule! At least in this class. Internationally, and for those seeking a modern high-performance kit boat, see also Dudley Dix's Paper Jet 14. See, and

Vital Statistics
  • Length Overall 4375 mm (about 14'3")
  • Beam 1525 mm (5')
  • Dry Weight of Hull only not < 75 Kgs
  • Mast length not > 5600 mm
Credits to the Sonnet Sailing Association for photos. For more info please see

My own Sonnet before FBYC longhaul earlier in 2010

Video Clip of this Sonnet sailing at Langebaan Lagoon, South Africa, in 2003